Dental Clinic Model
In the dental clinic model, dental providers offer safety net oral health services to individuals. Some rural
communities are using existing dental clinics when implementing this model, while others seek funding to build
new free-standing clinics or open new clinics within an existing local medical center. In one rural program
that participates in an oral health consortium, four dental clinics operate in a partner's building at no cost.
Some dental clinic programs may only offer emergency oral health services. Some rural dental clinics offer
regular preventive, restorative, surgical, and rehabilitation services to patients, such as:
- Dental hygiene (cleaning, scaling, polishing)
- Oral cancer screening
- Dental X-rays
- Dental sealants
- Fluoride varnish
- Root canal therapy
- Tooth extraction
- Treatment of gum disease
In addition to these services, dental clinics may offer patient education on oral hygiene, self-care, and
wellness maintenance. Rural dental clinics may also provide services for expecting mothers and mothers with
infants, such as information about newborn hygiene and bottle-feeding, sample dental products, dental wipes, and
In some dental clinics, dentists or dental students offer their services free of charge. Other dental clinics may
accept Medicaid payments or use a sliding fee scale. Some dental clinics offer only emergency dental services,
and such services are offered at reduced rates.
Examples of Rural Dental Clinic Programs
For examples of the dental clinic model, see the following programs in the Rural Health Models and Innovations
Rural dental clinics are staffed in different ways. Some programs recruit dentists to provide dental care to
patients on a rotating schedule, sharing the responsibility across providers. Other programs work with dental
residents to provide free dental care. Programs also offer multi-day portable clinic events staffed by dental
and medical professionals and community member volunteers.
Rural oral health programs have established patient advisory groups to guide their projects to identify and
understand the needs of their priority population. In some cases, food, transportation, and modest compensation
are offered to advisory group members to improve participation.
Resources to Learn More
A Guide for Developing and Enhancing Community Oral Health
Designed to help local public health agencies develop, integrate, expand, or enhance community oral health
programs. Provides step-by-step information on mobilizing community support, organizing a needs assessment,
planning and implementing the program, program evaluation, and policy development and research to improve oral
Organization(s): American Association for Community Dental Programs (AACDP)
National Network for Oral Health Access
An organization whose mission is to improve oral health of underserved populations and support the integration
of oral health with primary care. Seeks to strengthen the oral health safety-net through knowledge, leadership,
advocacy, and support to oral health providers. Focus is on improving oral health access by developing resources
and initiatives, and promoting of core clinical competencies and promising practices.
Safety Net Dental Clinic Manual: Second Edition
Developed by experts to guide dental clinic staff with the development and operations of a safety net dental
clinic. Topics covered include partnerships and planning, facilities and staffing, finances, administrative
operations, and quality assurance.
Author(s): Doherty, M., Bingham, D., Kislak, R., etc.
Organization(s): DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, National Maternal and Child Oral
Health Resource Center